James Bond
Still from 'No Time to Die' by Nicola Dove/MGM/Eon

All of the ‘James Bond’ theme songs, ranked from worst to first

By design, Bond movies and Bond themes go together like peanut butter and jelly, or peanut butter and chocolate, or peanut butter and any number of other delicious foodstuffs: Sure, they can work on their own, but would you really want to have them separately once you’ve tried them together? Ever since Goldfinger hit back in ’64, each film in the franchise has had a single, typically performed by a diva (or divo, to use the Italian), which ties that film to its current cultural era through an emotive expression of the zeitgeist. In honor of No Time to Die hitting theaters stateside on October 7 (read our spoiler-free review here) and after an exhaustive period of research, we’ve ranked the Bond themes from Worst to First for your pleasure. You may be surprised by what you find, or you might not be, but either way, it’s a chance for us all to reconnect with one of pop music’s most fascinating curiosities.

A few quick caveats, though. For this list, we didn’t use any music from non-sanctioned Eon productions, which is somewhat of a shame, given the ’67 Casino Royale comedy was the first-ever Bond-related theme to be nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars, but we wanted this to be a main-series only affair for the sake of continuity. Nor did we pull from the world of Bond video games (we’re sorry, Joss Stone), nor did we pull from anything considered a “score.” This means the actual “James Bond Theme,” as composed by John Berry, isn’t on this list, which unfortunately makes Dr. No unrepresented here, because if we were to list that number it would have instantly topped the list and that would have been no fun whatsoever for anyone. Finally, given the above limitation, for From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the two Bond films that have instrumental credit sequences and alternative original songs composed for the film, featured either over the credits or within the film itself, we selected those as replacement anthems. No other alternative themes or the assorted numbers that were cut are on the list.

With all that said, let’s begin.

24. “Die Another Day,” Madonna — Die Another Day

As much as we love the ice theme of the opening credits – complete with Pierce Brosnan getting dunked into an ice water bath by the North Korean goons torturing him – this song is garbage, which is amazing, given that Garbage actually composed a better Bond theme. There are only a few truly bad Bond songs, and this is the king among them. Bow before Madge’s fire-soaked throne as she reigns in hell because it’s doubtful another song this misguided will ever emerge from an Eon production. Next time, instead of trying to get someone to rip off Bjork’s style, just fucking hire Bjork. And if she says no, just find a different style.

As much as we love the ice theme of the opening credits – complete with Pierce Brosnan getting dunked into an ice water bath by the North Korean goons torturing him – this song is garbage, which is amazing, given that Garbage actually composed a better Bond theme. There are only a few truly bad Bond songs, and this is the king among them. Bow before Madge’s fire-soaked throne as she reigns in hell because it’s doubtful another song this misguided will ever emerge from an Eon production. Next time, instead of trying to get someone to rip off Bjork’s style, just fucking hire Bjork. And if she says no, just find a different style.

23. “The Man With the Golden Gun,” Lulu —The Man With the Golden Gun

Generally regarded as one of the worst of the Moore Bonds, The Man With the Golden Gun gets a goofy, dinner theater-style show tune for its entry on the list. One cannot help but roll their eyes at this song, with its strike-up-the-band style panache, otherwise-cool fuzz box guitars, and the goofy enthusiasm of Lulu’s vocals. The sequence isn’t particularly good, either, a major step down from the bizarre surrealism of the one that preceded it, to say absolutely nothing of the song itself. Moore was in nuttier, campier films and also ones about as bad as this, but all of them have one thing in common: they had much, much better songs to accompany them.

22. “Another Way to Die,” Jack White and Alicia Keys — Quantum of Solace

Quantum has a pretty cool opening sequence, with a great desert motif that compliments the eco-disaster themes of the film very well, but White and Keys are not the best fit in the world for this style of project. We can appreciate what the pair were trying to do — AC/DC-styled guitars, a steady-funk staccato rap in the verses — but it’s a little too 2008, and the single is mixed so strangely that it’s bizarre to listen to in any context outside of the theatrical mix. And given that one probably hasn’t heard it since they left the theater in semi-disappointment back then (yes, we know you Quantum fans are out there, and hell, we’d like to revisit it one day), it’s hard to pull the “ack-tually it’s better in context” rejoinder without getting a pie thrown at you.

21. “From Russia With Love,” Matt Munro — From Russia With Love

Now we’re getting somewhere. This plays over the end titles of what is considered by many to be the best Bond film (we disagree, but it’s still good!), and it’s your standard Rat Pack-sounding ballad that screams “New Frontier” to the modern folk listening to it. This makes an especially fitting kind of sense, given that the Fleming novel the film is based on was JFK’s favorite of the series, and it works really well within the movie itself, though we’d be somewhat hard-pressed to imagine ourselves listening to it at any other point than when we’re rewatching it.

20. “All Time High,’ Rita Coolidge — Octopussy

Here we go. Another pretty bad Moore film, especially hampered by the fact that it was going up against a non-licensed Connery-led film adapted from the same source material (and was already a remake of Thunderball on top of all that), but this is actually a pretty kick-ass song. It has some of the same country-esque vibes that would pop up every now and again in Moore’s tenure and Coolidge’s vocals are really solid, though the credits sequence, like in most of the Moore years, is pretty lame, going through the same sort of imagery we see in every other one of the installments from this era. We always expect to hate listening to this when we cue it up, but by the time the chorus hits, we’re rolling along and bobbing our heads with it.

19. “Thunderball,” Tom Jones –– Thunderball

The first Bond production that could be considered a true clusterfuck had an equally troubled production behind its title song, but it’s saved from irrelevance (and pretty mediocre songwriting) by the same man who helped to save our world from The Martians when they invaded back in 1996: Tom fuckin’ Jones. Seriously, just listening to this song a few times a day will probably help you grow chest hair. The Connery era has some of the most iconic credits sequences, and this is no exception: lots of fun aquatic imagery that pairs nicely with the content of the film, but it’s just not particularly great compared to the others in the era, and it would establish a kind of lame precedent of water-only imagery that would extend through the Moore years.

18. “Moonraker,” Shirley Bassey — Moonraker

It should go without saying that Bassey is the ur-Bond vocalist, and can therefore kill a theme whenever she was hired to do one, and “Moonraker” is no exception to this rule. It just isn’t a very compelling number in contrast to the others she performed: a slow ballad that’s kind of out of place in comparison to the film’s tone, which is a contrast it can’t really bridge, no matter how much she belts it out. The sequence isn’t particularly well done, either, with its papercraft women falling across the screen in zero gravity or doing flips against a moonlit background, which can probably be explained by the fact that every aspect of the budget went to that incredible spectacle of a finale.

17. “The Living Daylights,” a-ha –– The Living Daylights

Basically everything from here on is some variation of “good,” though we’ll let you know when it turns into “great.” Dalton’s first outing continues the mid-80s trend of hiring a swell New Wave band to compose a Bond-themed pop song for the title sequence, and this one is cool as shit. Images of guns superimposed on women wearing the most rad fashions of the late ‘80s, the “007” logo being well-used here, and the cool shot of the woman in the champagne flute at the end: how could you not get some manner of enjoyment out of it? It was well-prepared for that era of MTV (though it definitely was not the first to be), and the song’s kind of a banger. It’s just not as good as its predecessor, whose shadow it never quite emerges from.

16. “Tomorrow Never Dies,” Sheryl Crow — Tomorrow Never Dies

This one’s a little too self-referential for our tastes, given all of Crow’s talk about martinis and whatnot, but we can’t deny that it’s a cool single, especially when paired with all of the awesome high-tech (and now wonderfully low-fi) imagery in the sequence itself. Brosnan never had a truly spectacular Bond theme, given that the franchise was working out a lot of the kinks for the modern era, and as such, his numbers always feel just a bit too current to be specifically iconic or memorable in the traditional sense. Yet it still kind of rocks, and we’re sure that a whole generation of Bond nerds probably believe that this style is good and proper regardless, so perhaps, like JNCO jeans and slap bracelets, this style will one day make a comeback too.

15. “Writing’s On the Wall,’ Sam Smith — Spectre

Yet another song made in the shadow of its significantly more successful predecessor that was, by the ethos of its creation, inherently limited in what it could do, but the melancholy vibes of both the sequence and the song are pretty damn solid. If Spectre can be considered a series of diminishing returns – how the hell do you top that single-shot opening sequence in Mexico City and then this? – it’s pretty much the high-water mark for the film itself. Smith is a great vocalist, and his falsetto is eerily beautiful when it’s featured like it is here, but we’re not sure if it was worth replacing the Radiohead single with, especially since, well, it’s also a bummer torch song.

14. “Goldeneye,” Tina Turner — Goldeneye

You would tend to expect more from one of the greatest vocalists of all time doing a Bond number, but as we’ve mentioned before, Brosnan’s Bond and the franchise’s stylistic need to separate itself from its predecessors had a way of clamping down on what they could do, so Turner’s only able to somewhat spice up a mediocre number with her amazing talents. The reason why this tune is remembered so fondly is because of the amazing title sequence, which established a whole new way that they could be used within the film itself: its aestheticism paired with exposition, documenting the seismic changes in the world that had occurred since the last film (all those falling Hammers and Sickles were pretty much lost on viewers younger than the age of 10) as well as ushering in a new era for 007. It’s a showstopping sequence and elevates the song within that context.

13. “No Time to Die,” Billie Eilish — No Time to Die

This is one of the best dirge Bond anthems, co-composed and performed by America’s current maestro of millennial alienation, and though it shares its style with Smith’s, Eilish feels like she’s doing her own thing here. It’s an excellent complement to the tone of the film itself, and the title sequence is one of the most astonishing of the Craig era: without spoiling its specific contents, the imagery is lush and beautifully rendered. CGI and Bond title sequences haven’t always gone together great, but this sequence’s visuals suit the mood of the track (and the film) nicely. Whoever follows this one up will have a hard time making it past this particular place on the list.

12. “For Your Eyes Only,” Sheena Easton — For Your Eyes Only

This song is a romantic banger, a ballad that says “pull out that cocaine and forget about your porn career because the ‘80s are here and they’re not going away.” Easton’s vocals are wonderful, the orchestration is to die for, and it’s a lovely addition to the film as well, capturing the mixture of Moore-era goofballery as well as the weird seriousness and emotion at the heart of the film too. The only qualm – and we mean the only qualm – we have with this is the sequence itself, which isn’t poorly done, but it is a little weird to see Easton actually performing the song within it, lip-syncing along with her track as a disembodied head floating among the standard dancing silhouettes. It’s understandable why they didn’t do this again, but it’s also kind of weird, given that MTV wouldn’t come about for another few years – you think they would have tried this again when it was standard to see it in every day media.

11. “License to Kill,” Gladys Knight — License to Kill

Gladys Knight is a queen, and “License to Kill” is the kind of ‘80s soul ballad that just rips through one’s ear canals and leaves you trembling in awe of her power as a vocalist. Sure, it’s a little cornball, but it’s also cool as hell, especially when joined with the Dalton-era cool imagery on display, which does everything that The Living Daylights tried to do but much, much better. It’s a shame the rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up to the sequence or this song, which is probably one of the reasons its often disregarded when others compose these lists. Believe us, we wish we could rank this higher, but there are just too many good ones from here on out, but rest assured: blasting this song at your next ‘80s party will cause the house to come down, so you better get that homeowners insurance soon.  

10. “The World is Not Enough,” Garbage — The World is Not Enough

The best Brosnan Bond theme by a country mile is also the best fusion of the old-school/new-school approach that that iteration of the franchise was defined by, done by perhaps the least-expected of all ‘90s bands to ever be considered for the task. Shirley Manson owns this track, with her awesome vocals and songwriting echoing the kind of Bjork-styled “Hyperballad” ethos that seemed to be what the folks in charge wanted back at the turn of the century. The lava-lamp imagery in the sequence itself is awesome, though its specific oil-based imagery would be done better in one of our picks for “Best Bond Song That Is Not A Bond Song” in David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Come to think of it, it’s crazy that the Bond producers haven’t reached out to Trent Reznor yet. Something to think about for future installments, Eon.

9. “You Know My Name,” Chris Cornell — Casino Royale

We’re going to be real with you: this is, hands down, the greatest Bond sequence ever committed to film. The Saul Bass-styled imagery is just so goddamn cool, with the rich playing card motif just looking phenomenal, and the subsequent violence in the sequence itself, with the various goons that papercraft Bond goes up against exploding into hearts and diamonds… One can imagine the chef’s kiss that was had when the animators were finished. It’s a beautiful thematic introduction to this brutal era of Bond that still manages to capture the romance of it all, and Cornell’s track doesn’t do anything to get in the way. It’s not the best number, nor is it the worst, but we would be lying if we said that this track doesn’t get us absolutely pumped up in a way that few other Bond themes do.

8. “Diamonds Are Forever,” Shirley Bassey — Diamonds Are Forever

This is one of the few songs on this list that has had an equally-as-interesting life of its own after its usage in the Bond film, and we imagine pretty much everyone who lived through 2005 expects Ye and Hova to bust on the track after hearing that intro. It’s a great Bassey number, featuring perhaps her best vocal performance on any of these numbers, and the weird spectral quality of the song itself is just so enticing and interesting, especially when paired with the diamond-studded visuals in the sequence as it’s used in the film. The movie’s so-so, but perhaps it’s kind of fitting that “Diamonds Are Forever” would outlive Diamonds Are Forever in terms of relevance. Plus, cats!

7. “Nobody Does It Better,” Carly Simon — The Spy Who Loved Me

Now we’re in masterpiece territory: How on earth could you get any better than Carly Simon? This laconic ballad is just so gorgeous and earnest — hell, it even manages to pull off incorporating the film’s title into the lyrics in a way that’s not totally forced — and we love how wonderfully romantic it is. It’s swoon-worthy, perhaps the best compliment to Moore’s persona that exists, even if it’s not our favorite of his title tracks. The sequence is good, though it’s not too much to write home about, but we just love this song. And besides, we at least know who Simon wrote this song for: you have to think that Warren Beatty must be pissed that a fictional spy got a more lush and lovely track from her than he ever did.

6. “A View to a Kill,” Duran Duran — A View to a Kill

If you’re going to go Duran Duran, you might as well go full neon, which is the aesthetic of the sequence in question. It is so goddamn cool in practice, befitting the era in which it was produced, where one  could neon-painted women wave their arms over fire like demonic djinns and think “ah, I am living in the ‘80s, aren’t I?” It’s got a few too many of the Bond stereotypes from that era — did they just use the same six images of Moore’s Bond in all of these — but the song’s a banger, and what the sequence does to stand out from the rest of that era is more than enough to propel it to the status of “Best ‘80s Bond Theme.” Shame about the movie, though.

5. “Skyfall,” Adele — Skyfall

Of course, this is the best of the Craig Bond themes – how could it not be, after it brought home the series’ first Oscar for Best Original Song? We’re joking, but this is one of the few Bond themes in millennial lifetimes to be an actual cultural sensation and not just a fun complement to what one’s watching on screen, soon to be forgotten after you’ve digested the movie. We have a feeling that the “return to form” that Skyfall is credited with has a lot to do with this song, which is basically a Shelley Bassey anthem that she never performed herself, and the title sequence, meshing with Bond’s injury and insecurity, is a really cool compliment to the song, which manages to take the film’s name and significance to the plot and makes something interesting of it lyrically. It is crazy to us that there are four better, but that’s just how things shake out.

4. “Live and Let Die,” Wings — Live and Let Die

Flaming skulls, voodoo imagery, and Paul McCartney on the vocals? How on Earth did Roger Moore manage to get such an amazing introduction to his era as the face of the franchise? This is by far one of the most fun Bond themes, a genuinely rockin’ single that almost totally broke with tradition, but in a great way. How McCartney manages the tempo here is just so cool: When the strings and horns come in, it’s hard not to feel your pulse racing. You just want to start running, but when it cools off and you get to that groove, man, is it just swell. We highly recommend using this for interval training, because it’ll make that seem like a whole lot more fun.

3. “Goldfinger,” Shirley Bassey — Goldfinger

The OG. The icon. The one that started it all. We honestly don’t think we need to say very much about this, given that it’s pretty much what every single person associates with the words “Bond” and “theme,” so we really won’t dig into it too much. But we will say that if you ask us on any given day, the top three numbers on this list could be in a different order. They’re just masterpieces.

2. “We Have All the Time in the World,” Louis Armstrong — On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Okay, we know we’re going to get some guff for this. Yes, it’s not the title theme, nor is there really a decent sequence to evaluate it with, but come on: this is a genuinely gorgeous and beautiful track, perhaps the only Bond song that could be legitimately sung as a Jazz standard and not instantly be identifiable as a pop culture reference. Old Satchmo’s vocals, the beautiful and understated trumpet solo, and its relevance to the film’s thematic content – a wellspring that the Bond franchise has returned to over and over again in order to try and give an emotional relevance to the character no matter the era – all add up to this being just a damn good song, which causes us to get a little choked up when we hear it played. This is also the only Bond song that we could ever imagine being played at a wedding, even if it might be a bad omen, and it’s one of the few to be referenced in other Bond films, an honor that no other non-score song has in the franchise. This is our favorite, but due to everything we mentioned, it can’t be atop this list.

1. “You Only Live Twice,” Nancy Sinatra — You Only Live Twice

Yeah, Nancy walked all over this track, and god damn is it amazing. The production is astonishing, the mood is right, and it perfectly compliments the film as well, given that it’s kind of a cliffhanger bridge after Bond fakes his death. The sequence just looks incredible: It’s understated and really relies on the song for it to resonate, but the Technicolor splendor is just lovely to watch, especially on the big screen. So, yeah, if you’re looking for a Bond theme and you don’t want to be outright contrarian (like we just were with OHMSS) or boring (“Goldfinger? Is that the only one of those films you’ve seen?”), choose this one the next time you’re confronted with by a person who puts way too much stock into other people’s opinions of movie theme songs than they’re probably worth. Speaking of Bond anthems used well in other media, how about this one’s usage in that Mad Men season finale? Talk about perfect.